Bow Drill Challenge

Bow Drill Challenge

I was challenged to start a Bow Drill Fire in 20 minutes or less. This tutorial
will give you the basics of how to make a Bow Drill fire and what to do and not
to do! The Challenge began at approximately 4:30 PM on Thursday 7-24-08. I broke
a branch off of a Sycamore that had been struck by lightning last year. It was
about 5 feet long. (Pay no attention to the dates on the pictures.. the camera
was wrong.)

I broke a section off the limb and split the 4 edge off with my knife leaving 4
sections and the center piece which was now squared…

Next I sawed off about a 12″ piece of the remaining center piece to form
the spindle

I quickly rounded the edges of the drill off (You can see in these shots that I
was perspiring like crazy! The heat index here today was right around 100
degrees LOL! So much for freezing as I am doing this… So I pretended)…

The finished spindle… Notice that the top end that will be held in the
handhold is rather pointed. The business end (that will produces the coal) is
much more blunt so that there is as much surface area as possible against the
fire board.

I then took the edges off of one of the split pieces and drilled an indentation
into the center with my knife for the drill to fit into and cut the notch…

Using another piece of the split off edge as a handhold I burned my hole into
the fireboard.

I didn’t expect to get a coal so easily.. I was just preparing my notch… And I
didn’t have my tinder together yet! Well… I had a coal..

But I had no tinder! So I tried what I have coined “A tinderless
fire”… by putting shavings from the splitting work onto the coal… but
it went out. This might have worked if I spent the time… but I was already at
about 15-16 minutes into the challenge and I wanted to get this fire going…

I went to a nearby Cedar tree to gather some bark.. and picked up a pile of
dried grass for my “Bird’s Nest”…

Running back to the Bow Drill set up I quickly put the spindle back in the
bow… (I should say here that I would add 5 minutes onto my time since I used a
bow I had… It would have only taken a minute or two more to take a shrub
down.. but it’s my yard… and I didn’t want to kill anything fresh. The bow is
the easiest part of the setup to make and it would not have been a problem to
fashion one… So the bow is in the spindle.. and I start to turn it… You can
get a good shot of the handhold in this picture. It is simple a piece of wood
with a small indentation in it to accept the top of the drill…

Well.. we are all set up.. so Let’s make Fire!!! I began to turn the drill
slowly and methodically. As smoke started to build up I put more downward
pressure and moved the bow more quickly back and forth around the wrapped
spindle. As I spun faster the handhold started to pour hot dust onto my leg and
foot! OUCH! You can actually see the hot dust on my foot in this shot. But the
smoke was rising quickly and I knew the coal had formed…

I gave the coal a minute to coalesce.. and transferred it to the tinder pile. A
lot of people make a mistake here and try to rush things… Give your coal time
to grow. Gently blowing I spread the coal in the pile and it was well on it’s
way to ignition!

I didn’t realize until I saw the pictures that I actually had flame at this
point! I put the tinder pile down on a board and added some of the shavings from
splitting the log out… and a few odd branches I picked up nearby…

And Voila! Fire… I added a few larger pieces and let her go!

Total time from start to finish was right at 22-23 minutes. I actually got 2
coals in this time and could probably started the 1st one in a few minutes less
if I had worked at it. But I wanted to be sure it would go. I moved from the
woods to an opening in the challenge.. so I would have brought myself a few
extra minutes of light. And I could have begun the fire after sunset once all
the components were finished. I was in pretty good shape. Finish time was
approximately 4:53 PM. I gave the fire 5 minutes to burn and took this final
picture at about 5:02 PM to show that it went for more than 5 minutes. For the
record.. With the leftover branch and pieces of the Sycamore… the fire is
still going as I post this at 7:30 PM (2.5 hours later).

I understand that this is a kind of different “tutorial” than one
would normally see. But if you study the pictures.. and read carefully some of
the tips that I have put in the write up you should have enough information to
get out and practice the bow drill on your own. Don’t worry if your coal doesn’t
come the 1st time. Keep working at it. This is a skill that you can master.. if
you have patience and stick with it. If you seem to be having trouble.. let me
know and I will be happy to help you in any way that I can!
A special thank you to my precious wife for shooting the pictures and timing me
through the challenge.


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